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The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have today published the Government's response to the Fourth Report of the Public Administration Select Committee, "Government by Appointment: Opening Up the Patronage State."
I am grateful for the Committee's comprehensive and helpful report. We have considered the report in detail and undertaken in-depth consultation. The Government accept the majority of the Committee's recommendations and is already implementing some of them.
The Government agree with the Committee that the Commissioner is central to the integrity and good practice of public appointments. The Government will examine the Public Appointments Order in Council to see whether it needs to be strengthened in order that the independence of the Commissioner is assured. It will also update the schedule to the Order providing a definitive list of appointments regulated by the Commissioner. The Government do not agree with the recommendation that the Commissioner should be made solely responsible for appointing independent
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assessors, but will explore further with the Commissioner how current arrangements operate to ensure that they are as robust as possible.
The Government accept a number of recommendations designed to encourage and improve diversity in public appointments including developing and piloting shadowing, mentoring and board development schemes for groups that are currently under-represented on boards of public bodies.
The Government believe that it would be immensely difficult for a single body to cope with the diverse range of Non-Departmental Public Bodies and maintain that individual departments should continue to be responsible for appointments they sponsor. The Government recognise the value of having central teams in departments to advise on public appointments and work with sponsor teams. It also recognises that the NHS Appointments Commission is working well and some departments could benefit from using its services. The Government will be exploring this further.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have today published the new Delivering Diversity in Public Appointments 2003. This explains what each central Government department is doing to increase diversity on the boards of their public bodies.
The report includes action plans for each department as well as details of progress to date. It also includes targets to increase the proportion of appointments held by women, people from ethnic minority backgrounds and disabled people to be achieved by 2006.
The Government has two fundamental commitments that apply to public appointments. The first is that selection should be made on merit, using fair and open procedures that ensure the best available candidate is appointed to each post.
The second is a commitment to improving diversity in public appointments and recognition that the boards of public bodies will be most effective if they benefit from access to a wide range of skills, experience and backgrounds among their members. In particular, the Government is committed to the equal representation of women and men in public appointments; pro rata representation of members of ethnic minority groups and increased participation of disabled people.
The Government is keen to ensure that these commitments are met and that those serving on public bodies are representative of society as a whole. Progress has been made. But there is still much more to be done. I commend this new report, and the plans in departments to ensure that the targets they have set are met.
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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): The Government are introducing new controls to license the activities of those who trade in military goods between overseas countries (also known as trafficking and brokering); transfer technology for military goods by electronic means (e-mail, fax, etc.); transfer technology, by any means, for use in connection with WMD; and provide technical assistance for use in connection with WMD.
These controls are contained in the Export of Goods, Transfer of Technology and Provision of Technical Assistance (Control) Order 2003 (SI 2003/2764) and the Trade in Goods (Control) Order 2003 (SI 2003.2765) and will come into force on 1 May 2004. Section 9(3) of the Export Control Act 2002 requires the Secretary of State to give guidance about the general principles to be followed when exercising licensing powers.
The then Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend, the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), made a statement to Parliament on 26 October 2000, Official Report, column 200W, setting out the criteria that the Government will use in considering all individual applications for licences to export goods on the Military List, which forms Part III of Schedule 1 to the Export of Goods (Control) Order 1994; advance approvals for promotion prior to formal application for an export licence; and licence applications for the export of dual-use goods as specified in Annex 1 of Council Regulation (EC) 1334/2000 where there are grounds for believing that the end-user of such goods will be the armed forces or internal security forces or similar entities in the recipient country, or that the goods will be used to produce arms or other goods on the Military List for such end-users. On 8 July 2002, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary set out how the Government approach export licence applications for goods where it is understood that the goods are to be incorporated into products for onward export Official Report, columns 65254W.
The Government have decided that it will continue to use these criteria, in the same way, in considering all individual applications for licences as set out in the new orders made under the Export Control Act 2002, taking account of the circumstances prevailing at the time and other announced Government policies.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): The UN panel on the Illegal Exploitation of the Natural Resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo has now completed its work. It addressed one of the central and most contentious issues of the conflict in the DRC: the link between the causes of the conflict and the exploitation of natural resources. The panel's final report contains a number of important recommendations about how both the Congolese people and the international community should better manage the exploitation of resources to benefit the people of the DRC. Without losing sight of what has gone on before and the need for justice in appropriate cases, we need to build on many of its positive recommendations.
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We agree with the panel, that the international community must support the Transitional National Government (TNG) in the DRC. We are already working with the new government in Congo and with international and regional partners to help develop its institutions and to put in place effective management of the country's natural resources. The huge potential of the Congo's natural resources should be exploited legally and in a regulated way, for the benefit of all Congolese. We want to see trade in natural resources become a cohesive factor in regional stability and not a cause of conflict.
We are playing a leading role in helping the TNG make effective its anti-corruption commission. We are helping the new Government adhere to the Kimberley process on the regulated trade in diamonds, which is the country's most significant export. We have funded Global Witness to research and publish an independent preliminary report on resource exploitation, and we are planning to fund further research in this field. We are talking to the TNG about the extractive industries transparency initiative, which the Prime Minister launched in February 2003.
We are also engaged in promoting confidence building measures in the region. We welcome the declaration on good neighbourliness made by the Governments of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and the DRC in New York on 25 September, which includes that there must be no illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the DRC. We encourage the states concerned to continue to follow this up with steps to address bilateral and multilateral issues of mutual concern.
The illegal exploitation of resources in the DRC has served to fuel the conflict by funding arms flows. We need to ensure that the arms embargo on groups operating in the DRC is effectively implemented and monitored. We are playing a leading role through our mission in New York in supporting proposals for an arms embargo monitoring mechanism.
As well as looking forward, we need to address what has happened in the past. We take seriously the allegations made against the British companies named in the report. We have already pursued these allegations: the Department of Trade and Industry, as national contact point for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines has scrutinised the dossiers referred to it by the UN panel and has been in contact with the named companies or their representatives to discuss the allegations. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have studied the UN panel's papers relating to the UK companies named in the report, but have been unable to take matters further, due to lack of evidence which would be sufficient to mount a criminal investigation. We are disappointed that despite numerous appeals to the panel to furnish detailed information to substantiate its allegations, we have not received any such information. We cannot now pursue the cases named in the report further without more specific information. There is so far no evidence that named companies have breached either OECD guidelines or UK law. We continue to ask the UN to supply us with the information on which the panel based its allegations. We also urge the non-governmental organisation community to submit any specific information it may have to the national contact point.
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We continue to press regional states to investigate and, where appropriate, take action on the allegations made in the panel reports. In this respect we welcome the publication of the conclusions of the commission of inquiry established by the Ugandan Government. We remain in close contact with the Government of Uganda on follow-up work to the commission's report. We also welcome the establishment of a judicial commission by the Rwandan Government and urge it to publicise the results of its investigations.
The panel's final report included a section which the panel chose not to make public, but which was submitted on a confidential basis to the Security Council. It is not appropriate for us to comment on this, but as far as we are aware, none of the companies or individuals named in the confidential section is of British nationality.
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